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Cops: Seaford man hid weapons in bed compartment

Jonathan G. Erler of Seaford was arrested on multiple weapons and drug charges after police said he was pulled over for "a vehicle and traffic violation." Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Jan. 24, 2013)

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story. 

A police traffic stop of a Seaford man uncovered an arsenal of weapons including illegal guns, daggers, brass knuckles and a rifle telescope inside a hidden mechanical compartment of the suspect's bed, Nassau police said Thursday.

Jonathan G. Erler, 29, of 2055 Seamans Neck Rd., the owner of the Twisted Glass head shop in Wantagh, was arrested Wednesday after police said he was pulled over for talking on a cellphone near his home and officers found a flintlock rifle and drugs in his 2004 Subaru.

That find set off a subsequent search of his home that uncovered six "assault" weapons, five high-capacity ammunition feeding clips, Chinese throwing stars, two bulletproof vests, marijuana and nearly $5,000 in cash, police said

"These are some of the weapons the Nassau County Police Department is trying to get off the street," Insp. Kenneth Lack said at a news conference at police headquarters in Mineola.

Police Thursday laid out dozens of the defendant's weapons -- including multiple 9 mm and 22 mm handguns, ammunition and massive 50 mm bullets.

The assault weapons included an AK-47 and two Fabrique Nationale assault rifles, which are illegal under state law, Lack said. Some guns had accessories like illegal flash suppressors, he said.

Erler is charged with third-degree criminal possession of marijuana, fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and six counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

He was arraigned Thursday at First District Court in Hempstead and ordered held on bail of $11,000 cash or $22,000 bond. He is to return to court Monday.

He posted bail Thursday and was released, officials said. Erler was represented by the Legal Aid Society, which does not comment on cases. Erler, back home Thursday afternoon, would not comment.

James Moore, 53, Erler's neighbor, said he was uneasy about the incident: "It doesn't make me feel too good to know he had a big arsenal and drugs in there . . . That goes beyond protecting your home."

Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder said the special bed compartment where the guns were kept operated "on pistons that would rise up, and that's where he hid those weapons."

Ryder said Erler made admissions about why he had the weapons but police declined to divulge them.

Lack said Erler is a licensed handgun owner whose permit was suspended. His shop sells bongs and smoking paraphernalia. Several glass bongs were also seized from his home. Cops said they found nothing illegal at the shop.

Lack said there is no reason to believe Erler was planning an attack "but that's certainly part of the investigation." He declined to comment on whether Erler was being targeted by police.

Erler was stopped by the Criminal Intelligence Rapid Response Team, an elite group that develops intelligence for criminal cases and targets areas affected by burglaries, drugs and robberies.

It also seizes weapons. Since March, the 14-person team has made 886 arrests and seized 29 guns in addition to the ones seized Thursday, Ryder said.

Police said the Asset Forfeiture Criminal Investigative Rapid Response Team, Seventh Squad detectives and the Arson Bomb Squad were part of the investigation.

With Gary Dymski, John Valenti and Zachary R. Dowdy

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources.  In this story, Newsday could not locate: James Moore. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission.  If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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